Agents of Change 8.0

Agents of Change 8.0

< Back to Articles | Topics: Cover story

Contributors:

Sara Ericsson

Nevell Provo got his entrepreneurial start by selling potatoes at the age of four.

They were sourced from his uncle’s garden and may have been stolen, but those potatoes were the start of it all for Provo, who later moved on at the age of 10 to making slingshots from dollar store balloons and discarded bottle caps and selling them at school for $2 apiece.

“I had entrepreneurship in my DNA —I was always creative and trying to solve people’s problems while making a buck,” he laughs.

That drive returned when he returned to North Preston from Baltimore, where he lived while playing basketball, to partner up with his family and co-found Smooth Meal Prep, which has grown from just 10 customers to passing $100,000 in revenue within its first year in business. Provo is one of several young Nova Scotian innovators who make up this year’s Agents of Change as they find success with businesses and also champion causes including the environment, community action and education.

Building up home

Business is all about family and community for Provo, who grew up in North Preston and returned home to find his mother in the beginning stages of starting a meal prep business. The two partnered with Provo’s brother, Corvell Beals, to co-found the company and create low-carb and high-protein meals for fitness or health-minded people built around ingredients like ground turkey, chicken breast, sweet potatoes and brown rice as a fast yet healthy food option for people on the go.

“We consider ourselves the meal of fitness and calculate the nutritional content for those looking to lose weight or follow a fitness system to gain muscle mass. We also want to show that our food is made slow but eaten fast and that you can eat quickly but still be healthy,” says Provo.

Provo serves as company CEO, with Beals serving as COO and his mother as Head Chef. It now counts seven employees and several community volunteers, all from North Preston and has worked to mobilize the community’s youth through a summer program for kids from North Preston. Provo says they are now also seeing spinoff of others talking to Provo and asking questions as they seek to start their own business within the area.

“Our employees being from North Preston is something we pride ourselves in — to employ people who might otherwise have challenges finding employment,” says Provo.

It’s been a step-by-step process for Provo and his team as it’s his first time spearheading a business, but things are going well as they continue to see growth and success. It’s been a mind-blowing journey for the young entrepreneur, who sees it as a testament to the potential that exists within North Preston.

“We haven’t seen many businesses from the black community in Canada. So for us to lead that charge and inspire others, I think it’s one of those great feeling things again,” says Provo.

Finding success in solutions

A source of inspiration can come from a family member or something else just as personal — a lifelong allergy.

Hannah Chisholm is the Founder and Head of Eggcitables, which is a chickpea-based vegan egg alternative product. She has been allergic to milk, egg, nuts and shellfish for as long as she can remember and also recalls the first time products like soy milk, tofu cheese became locally available to her.

What she could never find, however, were eggs.

“When I was around 19, all dairy alternatives were available to me except for eggs. So that got me wondering why, especially since plant-based eating was becoming so popular,” she says.

She did some research and found chickpea flour added to water creates a substitute for omelettes and tried it out for herself, successfully making her first-ever omelette. She then spent the following few years playing around with the recipe, adding nutritional yeast and other ingredients to improve its texture and taste.

While pursuing a business degree at St. Francis Xavier University, Chisholm was accepted into the Wallace Family Internship summer program which required her to find and explore a potential business idea. She immediately thought of her egg substitute and a potential customer base in the growing number of plant-based eaters and others with allergies that could benefit from such a product. That opportunity then led to being accepted into the 2018 Summer Institute business accelerator program in Fredericton and to Chisholm pursuing the business full time, travelling to farmers markets across Atlantic Canada as she made her product by hand and from scratch to sell at each one.

While Chisholm’s own base is
currently Antigonish, her company has ties to Dartmouth in its partnership with the Dartmouth Adult Services Centre,
a social enterprise employing people with intellectual disabilities, who package and produce Eggcitables products that appear in 63 retailers across six provinces.

“In the moment it feels slow, but reflecting back it’s definitely a big milestone for sure. We also have our e-commerce website and it literally sells all across Canada. We’ve sold in almost every province, coast to coast,” says Chisholm.

The environmental factor

These innovators are also looking at how to help the environment. Chisholm’s Eggcitables consumer packaging, for example, is 100 per cent biodegradable.

“I don’t think people realize they can make impact just by choosing certain foods to eat. So if we understand that, it might play a factor when people choose what to eat,” she says.

Another environmental innovator is Stop Trashing It. Founder Alexa Goodman, who started her passion project after her research during her master’s degree at Dalhousie University, found that most social media campaigns around plastics pollution were emphasizing awareness of the issue rather than promoting real solutions.

“That narrative wasn’t helpful. This push for awareness is overwhelming because people are already aware — they know what’s happening, but they don’t know how they can help,” she says.

Goodman’s project aims to shift awareness into action by challenging people to cut one single-use plastic item from their lives. She acted as the project’s first low-waste ambassador when she eliminated disposable coffee cups from her own life and says this lived experience showed her its end goal should be for many people to produce less waste as a zero-waste lifestyle is impossible to sustain.

“We don’t need a handful of people living zero-waste lives — we need millions of people living a lower-waste life,” she says.

Goodman has taken her project to events across Canada and to the Sustainable Oceans Alliance (SOA)’s Our Ocean Youth Leadership Summit in Norway for the second time. It’s been recognized and endorsed as a SOA hub and uses ambassadors and hashtags like #Plasticfreechallenge and #Dontbeatrashhole to inspire people to join its cause.

Goodman hopes that as the number of pledges grows, the movement will show Canada’s government that real action starts from the bottom up and that if these people can change, its policy can too.

“We don’t want to lead change by awareness or opinion, but rather by action. And if we can show our government what it is we want by living that truth, I think that’s powerful,” says Goodman.

The educational component

As Stop Trashing It educates people on plastics pollution, another set of Halifax innovators are looking to educate others on software called blockchain.

Acadia University graduates Mrugakshee Palwe and Keegan Francis founded the Atlantic Blockchain Company (ABC), a Halifax-based blockchain and cryptocurrency consulting company that focuses on developing their client’s competency with the software and then creating and employing a blockchain or crypto strategy.

The co-founders started their business after discovering that Atlantic Canada was falling behind with regards to the software.

“The main barrier to the adoption of the software is that people don’t understand what it is or why they need it,” says Palwe.

The software produces a record of transactions made using a cryptocurrency, like Bitcoin, to purchase items. This record is maintained like a ledger across a network of computers, with the ledger existing on each one through the blockchain software. Palwe says this ledger network ensures the traceability and accountability of transactions.

“Depending on the organization, you want to be tracking what you are supplying from its source to its destination. This gives you the ability to hold accountable all of the items that change hands in the supply chain,” says Palwe. “It comes down to trusting the source and knowing where it’s coming from.”

Palwe says ABC’s goal in increasing blockchain awareness is to establish connections within Atlantic Canada and then use them to accelerate the adoption of blockchain here at home before broadening that network internationally. And they see this vision becoming real because they are approaching the software with an education and awareness strategy built into their business plan.

“We’re the only company who has a component of education included with our consultation. We’re passionate about spreading knowledge on what blockchain is and how it can be leveraged,” says Palwe.

Hometown advantage

But each agent of change seems to lead back to how the Halifax Regional Municipality and province of Nova Scotia has had a significant role in their respective journeys.

Chisholm’s Antigonish-based business began a partnership with the Dartmouth Adult Services Centre social enterprise, where employees with intellectual disabilities have been packaging Eggcitables products for more than one year.

“I’ve been a big fan of social entrepreneurship my entire life and was involved in a related program during university. It’s a partnership we’re really proud of and they’re doing a wonderful job,” she says.

Goodman found inspiration to start Stop Trashing It during her master’s degree studies at Dalhousie and has presented at events across the city while Palwe and Francis have also presented ABC at technology hubs across the Atlantic region, including Halifax.

Provo says these fellow innovators and the many other young entrepreneurs in Halifax, combined with the great number of public and private resources available in support of fledgling businesses and projects, all add up to equal a place that supports small businesses and creates opportunities for their success.

“I didn’t realize how great this place was to start a business. I don’t think there is a better place for us to start,”
he says.

< Back to Articles | Topics: Cover story

Stay Connected

Sign-up to receive important updates on Halifax Chamber events, Member benefits and advocacy news.

Wonder Women